A while back, a woman I know approached me and said, "I bet life with your daughter is like living with a drunk person." Winnie was two at the time, and the four of us were attending a school-sanctioned movie night, an event that went well past her bedtime and involved such decadence as: THE PLAYGROUND! CHICK-FIL-A! FULL-STRENGTH LEMONADE! Because it was late, and on a Friday night, I didn't mind taking her from the auditorium to blow some stink off in the lobby. She was starting to exhibit the behavior pattern my husband and I refer to as "bunny talk". Bunny talk is when she makes lots of clickety noises with her tongue, quick staccato snaps and pops in the front of her mouth, like she's munching on a carrot with two very large rabbit teeth. Bunny talk is a precursor to full-on punchiness--drowsy, slap-happy, tripping-over-my-two feet tired, which kind of reminds me...of a drunk person. "Oh, but she's a happy drunk", I said to the woman, as if this positive spin would negate the fact that she was, by this point, attempting to remove her clothes.
She's a big girl now-almost four, and so much of her baby skin has been shed. Like for instance, she no longer sleeps with a bag of Cheetos. We used to find her napping in the crib, a tiny pink purse over her shoulder with the coveted snack tucked inside. It wasn't as much about eating them as it was possessing them, gathering them to herself. She's a natural hoarder, and even though I've since learned to hide the good stuff on a higher pantry shelf, she has bags in every room with the non-edible treasures she's collected. Joshua and I watched her this weekend, editing the contents of a box of junk destined for either the dumpster or Goodwill, and were impressed by the fact that her selection was not arbitrary. Winnie assigned value to half of a plastic Easter egg, but not a random lego brick. An empty tea-light tin made the cut, but a handful of perfectly good yarn was thrown over her shoulder as if its very existence exasperated her. She amasses these "collections", has one in every room, and even though I'm having to do some spiritual breathing around the possibility of her squirreling her way into a Doctorow novel, I allow her treasure to remain...treasured. Will there be a junk avalanche in her future? I hope not. I'm keeping my fingers crossed she'll be a curator of something other than stacks of newspapers. Gold coins would be okay; silver linings even better.
I love my sweet girl, in every way imaginable--with my whole, imperfect heart. The past six months have been a whirlwind of emotion and change, and she has been, among all of us, the hardiest-a miniature, live-action PSA for pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps. And it's authentic, for pete's sake, because she's three. Me? I'm a mess, but my daughter's collecting trash and liking it. While singing showtunes.
I confess, there are times I fall miles, zip codes, lifetimes short of her moxie. And other times I need a volume dial, a mute button, or earmuffs-moments I'm barely able to sort through the din of my own thoughts without my own little Liza Minnelli narrating our downward spiral with song.
It was a week ago-we'd arrived late for a birthday party after fighting traffic, forgetting the gift, righting several wrong turns-one of those Friday afternoons when the entire week comes screeching to a halt just in time for you to have a nervous breakdown and a cocktail. My saving grace was that it was a drop-off party: I could leave the children at the shin-dig then scoot over to the market for my version of a margarita: shopping for groceries alone. I mean, can I get a witness? No mystery items in the cart, no children biting each other, just me and the Muzak. As I walked up the enormous hill to the lovely birthday be-decked home, though, there appeared to be more grown-ups than children in attendance-which could only mean: I wasn't going anywhere. It wasn't a drop-off party. It was fun for the whole family. At that moment, synapses began to misfire, chemicals lost their balance, and Winnie started singing Tomorrow and walking like a duck.
I looked at her and said, with just a hint of irritation, "You need to stop singing, please."
Well. That made me feel a WHOLE lot better. I felt like Kanye West. Like I'd roundhoused Elmo. Here is my child, high on life, and I need her to stop being happy so I can brood about my failed trip TO THE GROCERY STORE. She looked at me, worried-and stuck her lip out. "But Mommy", she whispered, "I have a song in my mouf."
We should all be so lucky. These days, I rarely have a song in my elbow, let alone my mouth. Did I leave it somewhere? In a tangle of vines or stack of boxes-maybe it flew out the window on I-75. There's no way to be sure-but I keep thinking that maybe when we finally get to where we're going I'll dig through the bubble wrap and see it, hold it up to the light, dust it off and remember. Until that happens, though, I have a little girl whose very life is a song-who doesn't need an address, or a reason. She just opens her mouth.